We held a memorial service for Frank yesterday here in Nairobi. All us pilots were in uniform, wearing the whitest flight shirts we could find in our closets. We gathered with the entire AIM AIR team, and also the broader AIM family – coworkers as well as some of the missionaries who Frank served. In the service, and in much of the sorrow we’ve shared this past week, we have caught a glimpse of the beauty of the Body, the Church, as it was meant to be. But yesterday was a hard day nonetheless. And both Renee and I went to bed with a level of emotional and physical exhaustion I have never experienced before.
I had the honor of writing a short tribute for Frank for the service, which really just made me miss him more. Here it is below:
There’s an empty place in the AIM AIR pilot’s room at the hangar. The vacant desk is neatly arranged. All the Jepp books are set uniformly on the left side. To the right, a couple of endearing notes written in a child’s hand are placed in such a way that indicate they are intended to be saved, and cherished. A dymo label sticks to the bookshelf in the center. It says “Frankie”, and this was his spot. Sometimes.
If he wasn’t here, chances were that he was out there – In the left seat of the 206 somewhere over the Sudan, or braving an overnight with missionaries in the bush, doing the thing he loved to do. The thing he purposed to do since he was a boy. Frank’s steady hand on the yoke of an airplane was but an extension of his heart. And his steadfast determination to follow his calling is what brought he and his family to AIM AIR. And to the far corners of Africa. To the aid and encouragement of many a missionary. And to the side of several hundred children in the village of Kangoka. Once, it brought him to the rescue of a one-day-old baby in the Northern Frontier. This child, who he tenderly called “his smallest passenger”, had no idea of the largeness of the man who piloted her to safety that day.
Big and barrel-chested, to hold his enormous heart. Contemplative. Kind. Committed. Frank was a man gifted in the art of “being there”. Wherever he was, he was wholly there. In the airplane, every movement of his hands was marked with purpose, and skill. On the ground his ears and heart were tuned to God’s actions around him – In the humor of a leaking roof on a thatched hut, or in the poignant reality of lost humanity at the most forgotten outpost. In a conversation he was a willing listener; but also a great storyteller. He could bless you simply by laughing. He could make your day with a smile.
But the place Frank was most wholly present was in the lives of his family: Tiffany, Aline, Tabitha, Teagan, Loewen – Five people who so encompassed his heart and passions that everything naturally took second place. He played and danced, sang, explored, and discovered. He took the girls on dates. Wrestled Loewen and let him win. On more than one occasion he stuffed his kids into the cargo pod of the 206 just for the photo and the laughs. He turned a 9000-mile road trip into a grand family adventure. And in every moment, Frank was “there”. Undeterred by the demands of life and ministry. Unencumbered by propriety. Understanding that the greatest work he would do in this world would be in the lives of those five people.
Some of us have had the privilege of flying with Frank, and through our experience, been able to teach him how to be a better pilot. But Frank has taught many of us how to be a better father, and husband. We are in his debt for that.
Frankie. There are many places you belong. At that empty desk in the pilot room. Flying high in the African skies. Kneeling low as you serve the least among us. Rolling in the grass with your family. Rolling in laughter with your teammates. But the place you most belong is where we’ll see you next. With your Savior and ours. And He’s probably already told you what we didn’t have the chance to say… “Well done.”